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It’s no accident that you can read and understand this sentence. A solid education empowered you with this fundamental skill. Yet today there are literally millions of kids in our nation who are behind in reading and, sadly, too many who can’t read at all. Your child may be one of them.
The latest data provide the facts — and they’re alarming. The National Assessment of Education Progress released its latest 4th and 8th grade reading scores for U.S. students and found that nearly 70 percent of these kids are testing “below proficient” in reading and are in real trouble. That’s not just appalling – it’s heartbreaking, especially because most parents think their kids are doing fine.
How did this happen? In a recent podcast series, “Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong,” journalist Emily Hanford shared stories of parents who discovered their children couldn’t read and the many challenges they faced in seeking help.
One parent, Corrine Adams, realized her son in kindergarten was not being taught to read when she helped him with his remote schooling during the pandemic. When she turned to Twitter to share her experience, Adams quickly found parents across the country had children who were not being taught how to read either.
Senior Airman Paweena Vennum reads to children March 23, 2022, on Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Natalie Powell)
This nationwide failure is real, and it has the potential to rob our children and grandchildren of a chance to reach their full potential. To cite one example, economist Eric Hanushek estimates that students impacted by pandemic-related learning loss will earn 6-9% less income throughout their life.
The path forward is effective policy. It’s why I founded the Foundation for Excellence in Education 15 years ago. Our organization recently hosted over 1,200 attendees at its annual National Summit on Education in Salt Lake City. Attendees heard from both Hanford and Hanushek and many other speakers in policy-focused discussions.
Central to our work is that every one of these solutions begins with what’s best for students. It’s why I strongly believe every child should have access to every educational option, similar to what was passed in neighboring Arizona with its Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program.
But that’s not all. In Utah, leaders have already made strides to enact commonsense policies. Senate President Stuart Adams is a champion for accountability that grades schools using letter grades – so schools are held accountable. Utah Sen. Ann Milner has championed some of the fundamentals of early literacy policy that include literacy coaches, screeners to promptly identify kids who are struggling, and early intervention, monitoring and supports for students until they’re on grade with their peers.
Yet in education, success is never final, reform is never complete. There’s still more that can be done. It starts with ensuring all early literacy curriculum is aligned with phonics and the science of reading and disallowing failed policies. States would be wise to follow the leads of Arkansas and Louisiana that have banned curriculums containing “3-cueing.” As the podcast series I referenced earlier unveils, this failed method literally teaches young children to guess words rather than work on sounding out the letters and truly learning how to read.
I don’t expect parents to know this – they shouldn’t have to. But there is an industry that profits off this curriculum, despite overwhelming evidence it impairs a child’s reading skills.
It’s time to put students first and put an end to what’s not working for kids.
But there’s too much at stake – we all must play a part to help every child rise. There are things parents, guardians, grandparents and any trusted adult in a child’s life can do to help students recover lost learning.
Invest just 20 minutes of reading every day with a child. And research has found an additional 30 minutes a week of extra math work have proven to help students make educational gains.
As a national problem, it requires a national effort. It requires a national commitment to education excellence for every child. I know we have it in our capacity as Americans to help every child close these gaps and ensure every child can access their God-given potential for a meaningful life.